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Turkmen Report: June 26, 2001

26 June 2001
Christian Broadcasts To Turkmenistan Started

23 June 2001

HCJB World Radio and Back to the Bible announced that additional broadcasting in Turkmen began on 20 June, thus complementing Trans World Radio's Turkmen transmissions that began earlier this year. The 15-minute programs, broadcast at 9 p.m. local time on Sundays and Wednesdays, air from an undisclosed medium-wave site outside of Turkmenistan. While HCJB and Back to the Bible are reluctant to disclose information on their broadcasting to Central Asia, the TWR printed schedule for summer 2001 lists a Turkmen program Sundays at 16:40 UTC on 864 and 5855 kHz from Armenia.

The U.S.-organizations began their efforts to start broadcasting Christian programming in Turkmen in 1991, but due to the lack of Christians with a command of Turkmen and able to produce such broadcasts it took a decade to put the program on the air. Dave Hansen, Back to the Bible's vice president of international ministries, says his organization "adopted" the people of Turkmenistan in 1991. "We began to raise funds for what we hoped at that time would soon be a radio ministry in the Turkmen language. Now, in the year 2001 after 10 long -- sometimes frustrating -- years, we are grateful that we've been able to work with HCJB World Radio to put this language on the air." -- Roger Stubbe of HCJB World Radio's International Radio Group in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Russian Citizen Given To Turkmenistan For The First Time

23 June 2001

At the request of Turkmen authorities, the Moscow Central Police Department on 2 June arrested Turkmen businessman Guvanch Djumaev, who has dual Turkmen and Russian citizenship.

Djumaev is an active supporter of democratic changes in Turkmenistan. His isolation as a possible opposition leader seems to be the real reason behind his arrest, not the alleged economic crimes, which the Russian newspaper "Tribuna" of 22 June 2001 consider to be the reasons of the investigation. Dmitrii Mukhin, the author of the article in "Tribuna," blames Djumaev for cheating the state energetic company "Kuwatt" for $1 million in 1994 and with the sale of expired medicine for some $14 million.

The executive director of the Information Center On Human Rights in Central Asia, Vitalii Ponomariov, gave an interview to our service and said that the arrest of Djumaev and his handover to Turkmenistan is entirely legal because of his dual citizenship. Russia and Turkmenistan signed the agreement on dual citizenship in 1994. Ponomariov is sure the reason of Djumaev's arrest is political, not criminal, as "Tribuna" wanted to see it. He also stressed that similar cases have taken place in other Central Asian states in recent year. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

EU Worried About Democracy In Turkmenistan

23 June 2001

The European Union is worried about the state of democracy in Turkmenistan, according to a statement released in Brussels.

The document says that EU "monitors with concern the judicial authorities' development in the country." The EU would like to see efforts by the Turkmen government "on the improvement of a state, based on laws, rights on objective judicial proceedings, and conforming independent protection." The EU urges the authorities of Turkmenistan to prolong cooperation with the OSCE center in this field.

The EU has also expressed its concern with the recent presidential decree about Turkmen citizens' getting married to foreigners. The legislation on this subject should conform with international obligations of Turkmenistan, the statement says.

The EU takes into consideration that President Saparmurat Niyazov has promised the establishment of a multiparty system in the country, and appeals for him to hold elections on all the levels in the nearest future.

Simultaneously, the EU has called an amnesty declared by Niyazov last year a positive factor that has allowed many prisoners to go free, including some political prisoners. Connected to this, the EU requests permission to let its mission visit Turkmen prisons.

Reports on the prosecution of religious minorities in Turkmenistan have also concerned the EU, which considers the access of citizens to education and culture as very important and urges the Turkmen authorities "to support and to develop a qualitative school system." ("Eurasia")

Turkmenistan Increases Output Of Oil And Gas In January-May

18 June 2001

From January-May, Turkmenistan increased the output of gas by 20 percent (to 22.1 billion cubic meters) in comparison with the same period last year and the output of oil (including gas condensate) by 12 percent (to 3.174 billion tons), a report by the National Institute for State Statistics and Information says.

In May, the output of gas went down by 12 percent in comparison with April, reaching 3.4 billion cubic meters.

The export of gas in January-May 2001 increased by 30 percent in comparison with January-May 2000, reaching 15.5 billion cubic meters. (Interfax)

Caspian States Agree To Pause In Sturgeon Fishing

21 June 2001

The three Caspian Sea states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia agreed today to suspend catches of sturgeon until the end of the year to protect stocks endangered by overfishing.

The decision was reached at a meeting in Paris of the UN-sponsored Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The decision to suspend catches averts a threatened temporary ban on all caviar exports from these countries.

The three states said they would only export caviar that is now in storage from this year's spring harvest. The countries also pledged to allow U.N.-affiliated officials to inspect their sturgeon management activities by the end of the year.

Turkmenistan, which exports caviar through Russia and Kazakhstan, was not present at the Paris meeting. It must confirm in writing that it accepts the plan or face a total ban on its caviar exports.

The illegal catch of sturgeon in the former Soviet Caspian Sea states is estimated at 10 to 12 times the legal take. (AFP, AP, RFE/RL)

Turkmen Institute To Ensure Rational Use Of Water

21 June 2001

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree on 20 June establishing a scientific institute for the methodology and development of public services.

Turkmen government sources reported that under the head of state's resolution, the institute will be responsible for investigating the prospects for the improvement and effective functioning of public services, and also for working out methods for providing public services to the population.

The institute will coordinate the work of enterprises and organizations in the republic to ensure that rational use is made of drinking water. (

Turkmen President's Image To Adorn New State Medals

19 June 2001

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's image is to adorn two new medals dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the former Soviet state's independence, official reports said on 19 June.

One of the decorations will carry the inscription "Turkmenistan's President The Great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi" -- the Father of All Turkmen -- and both will be awarded to citizens that have made a special contribution to society and their country.

Niyazov's face is already depicted on the national currency, the front page of newspapers, a brand of vodka, and giant posters that hang from every public building.

His image is also replicated in numerous monuments, including a rotating golden statue atop Turkmenistan's Arch of Neutrality that dominates the capital of Ashgabat's skyline. (AFP)

Bibles Banned From Book Trade?

20 June 2001

Copies of the Bible may no longer be sold through the book trade, sources in Turkmenistan have told the Keston News Service. A letter was reportedly sent in March to the directors of bookshops and companies running street book stalls banning such sales and reports say copies of the Bible in both Turkmen and Russian have disappeared from shops and stalls. The Koran was not mentioned in the letter and is still on sale widely. Although the ban on Bible sales was reported by reliable sources, Keston has been unable to establish which agency issued the instruction and has not seen a copy of the letter.

Father Andrei Sapunov, a Russian Orthodox priest and simultaneously a deputy chairman of the government's Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs responsible for Christian affairs, was unavailable either at the Gengeshi or at his cathedral on 19 and 20 June, and no other Gengeshi official was prepared to speak to Keston by telephone to explain whether such a ban on Bibles in the retail book trade had been issued and, if so, why.

It is not clear why the Bible -- the holy book of one of Turkmenistan's two legal faiths -- has apparently been banned from retail trade. It also remains unclear whether holy books of unregistered faiths trying to function in Turkmenistan -- such as the Bhagavad-Gita holy to the Hare Krishna faith or the teachings of the founder of the Bahais, Baha'u'llah -- were also banned in the March letter. (Keston News Service)

Turkmenistan Students Obliged To Wear National Headdress

18 June 2001

Turkmenistan's students will be forced to wear traditional headdress from September as the authorities bid to foster nationalism in this former Soviet state, an Education Ministry source said on 18 June.

"It will become obligatory for all of the country's students and schoolchildren to wear the national headdress during their studies from September 1," the source told AFP.

In addition to the traditional embroidered skull-cap, boys will be recommended to wear ties while girls will be forbidden from wearing miniskirts, trousers or dresses with high splits.

Ethnic minorities, including Russians and Armenians, will also have to abide by the new rules, the source added.

The move follows Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's criticism of educational institutions for failing to instill in young people enough respect for national customs and patriotism.

The education ministry is "trying to support Niyazov's idea to revive national teach students patriotic feelings," the source said. Student Dzhamal Ashirov, 21, said he knew cases where youngsters had already been prevented from entering class and threatened with expulsion because they lacked caps or were wearing miniskirts.

Mostly Muslim but largely secular Turkmenistan has attempted to foster a national identity since it gained independence in 1991 by fashioning a personality cult around Niyazov and by encouraging nationalism.

However, some measures have been viewed by international observers with concern.

In September last year, the authorities destroyed almost all copies of a school textbook after Niyazov criticized its portrayal of Turkmen history.

Niyazov has also called for background checks on students over three generations to determine the "moral character" of university candidates prior to entry. (AFP)

Turkmen Students To Be Grilled On 'Teachings' Of Their President

20 June 2001

Turkmen students will soon be examined on the teachings of omnipotent President Saparmurat Niyazov as his authoritarian grip stretches further over their lives, officials said on 20 June.

Turkmen higher education institutions are set to introduce the subject "the Rukhname of President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi The Great" from September, said Roza Nepesova, rector of Turkmenistan's world languages institute.

Rukhname is a code of spiritual conduct or a charter of ethical and moral commandments created by the president. Many of his admirers have gone so far as to compare this "great book" to the Bible or Koran.

A study of the new subject would help "form a new world vision among young people based on the teachings of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi and the commandments created by him in the holy Rukhname," Nepesova said.

Some observers believe its publication could prompt the authorities to declare the president a prophet as the creator of what many of his supporters have called a "holy" work. (AFP, RFE/RL)

Leading Western Consulting Firm To Help Attract Investment In Oil And Gas Industry

18 June 2001

The Ministry of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources of Turkmenistan has appointed RPI, Inc. (Russian Petroleum Investor) as its advisor on foreign investment. RPI is the leading energy consulting, business development and communications firm that assists such companies as Shell, Conoco, ExxonMobil, BP Amoco, Williams, and the Japan National Oil Corporation with their investments in the former Soviet Union.

The requirements of Turkmenistan's oil and gas industry for capital investment between 2001 and 2010 are projected to amount to $25 billion, while the market for oil and gas services is estimated at over $7.5 billion over the same term. Turkmenistan has expressed a particular interest in attracting foreign companies into offshore exploration, infrastructure development, and enhanced recovery projects.

Stan Polovets, president and CEO of RPI, will lead RPI's efforts in assisting the Turkmen government with attracting new investors into the country's oil and gas industry. Polovets noted that one of the greatest challenges still facing Turkmenistan is the shortage of export pipelines. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmenbashi Appoints Deputy Defense Minister, Sacks Deputy Border Head

16 June 2001

Under a resolution issued by President Niyazov, the commander-in-chief of the Air Forces and Air Defense Forces of Turkmenistan, Lieutenant General Serdar Charyyarov, has been appointed the deputy minister of defense of Turkmenistan for a six-month probation period. In the event of his failure to carry out his official duties, he is to be relieved of the post without being offered another.

Under another Turkmenbashi resolution, Geldi Ataevich Amanov was relieved of the posts of deputy head of the State Border Service of Turkmenistan and head of the Main Staff of State Border Service of Turkmenistan due to his state of health. (Turkmen TV)

Signs Of Arms Buildup Seen In Caspian Sea Region

19 June 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

After months of friction in the Caspian Sea region, there are signs that an arms buildup may be about to begin.

Last week in Ashgabat, an official of Russia's state-owned arms trader, Rosoboronexport, announced an agreement to sell Turkmenistan weapons in exchange for gas, the Interfax news agency reported.

President Saparmurat Niyazov is interested in upgrading his country's old Soviet arms, according to Sergei Chemezov, first deputy general director of Rosoboronexport. Turkmenistan is also seeking "advanced Russian military hardware," including coast guard border patrol craft, Chemezov said.

The deal comes two weeks after Azerbaijani reports that Turkmenistan was preparing to buy 20 speedboats from Ukraine, half of which were to carry machine guns. Azerbaijan's ANS television later corrected the account, quoting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma as saying that the total number of boats was only two.

The lower figure corresponds to the two coast guard boats that were recently donated by the U.S. to Azerbaijan. The unarmed vessels are said to be only 16 meters in length.

But Turkmenistan appears to be reacting sharply to the gift in light of its long-standing Caspian border dispute with Azerbaijan. It appears that Russia is eager to oblige by marketing its arms to Ashgabat.

The meeting with Niyazov was also reported to include Igor Makarov, the president of Itera, the main trading partner of Russia's gas monopoly, Gazprom. Itera handles the Russian gas trade with all CIS countries and indirectly supplies Azerbaijan with Turkmen gas.

Russia has previously balked at Turkmenistan's price hikes for gas. The gas-for-guns deal could give Moscow more fuel at favorable rates.

The move may mark a turning point for neutral Turkmenistan, which has so far resisted temptations to beef up its defenses against more dangerous neighbors like Afghanistan's Taliban. Turkmenistan has been alone among the Central Asian nations in arguing that the Taliban faction poses no threat.

Ashgabat now seems to be sending ambiguous signals toward Azerbaijan. Two weeks ago, it withdrew its ambassador from Baku but said the move was only the result of budget constraints. Azerbaijani officials have reportedly blamed the decision on Turkmenistan's competing claims to Caspian oilfields.

While Azerbaijan says it owns the Kyapaz field in the center of the Caspian, Turkmenistan says it has the right to the same field, which it calls Serdar. In addition, Ashgabat claims several deposits that are already under development by Azerbaijan's biggest western consortium.

Last week, Turkmenistan also publicized a Niyazov meeting with his security council and a shakeup in the army and interior staffs. Taken together, the series of actions is unusual for a nation that has insisted that its neutrality policy has defused all potential threats.

In his meeting with Chemezov and Makarov, Niyazov again cited Turkmenistan's neutral stance. But he added, "At the same time, certain steps to strengthen the defensive power of the country are permitted."

The question is what country Turkmenistan is suddenly defending itself against, if not Azerbaijan. In addition to its distinctive policy on the Taliban, Turkmenistan is now the only former Soviet republic of Central Asia that is not a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. One implication is that Niyazov does not see an Islamic insurgency as a threat.

The arms issue received little public notice last week during a meeting of deputy ministers in Baku on the perennial question of how to divide the Caspian Sea among the five shoreline states.

But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani called for the demilitarization of the Caspian, saying it should continue to be a source of "peace and friendship," the official IRNA news agency said. Iran has repeatedly raised concerns about Russia's naval power in negotiations over Caspian dividing lines.

The risk of increasing border patrols in the Caspian is that there is no agreement on where the border is. While the Azerbaijani and Turkmen forces in the Caspian are slight, it is hard to predict what either side would do if their patrol boats come into contact with one another in a disputed area.

Niyazov may assume that Azerbaijan will have no taste for trouble on another front as long as its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh remains unresolved.

Russia could be the beneficiary of a confrontation, given its many ways of influencing arms and energy exports for all of the countries involved. But arms sales seem unlikely to lead to a Caspian settlement, which Russia says it wants. (RFE/RL)

Turkmenistan's Marriage Decree Helps Deepen The Isolation Of Citizens

20 June 2001

By Rustem Safronov

Love can be dear in Turkmenistan. A recent decree requires foreigners to pay $50,000 for official permission to marry a Turkmen citizen. Authorities have implied the move is designed to protect women from being duped into abusive relationships, and suggest that it is in keeping with long-standing cultural traditions. However, critics say the decree places an almost insurmountable barrier to international marriages. The legislation, they add, constitutes another measure taken by Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov to isolate Turkmenistan.

Resolution No. 3407, which Niyazov authorized on 4 June, stipulates that a special contract is required for marriage between Turkmen citizens and non-citizens. The contract establishes both "the obligations and property rights of the parties to a marriage, and their duties in providing for their children in the case of dissolution." As a guarantee for a child's welfare, Resolution 3407 requires a $50,000 deposit with the State Insurance Organization from non-Turkmen citizens wishing to marry. In addition, the decree specifies that any marriage-minded foreigner must have lived in Turkmenistan for at least a year and own his or her own living space.

According to the website, which has close ties to the Turkmen government, Resolution 3407 primarily aims to protect "young women who often either fall into rich Asians' harems, or suffer materially at the hands of wandering adventurers posing as rich foreign businessmen."

Critics point out that there are few rich foreigners or con-artists operating in Turkmenistan. The foreigners most affected by the decree are primarily citizens from neighboring states, including other former Soviet republics, Iran, and Turkey. A large number of foreigners desiring to marry a Turkmen citizen will be unable to meet the contract requirements -- in particular the $50,000 security payment for prospective children.

Other conditions pose daunting obstacles. As a rule, foreigners working in Turkmenistan do not own their residences. Throughout the former Soviet Union, the overwhelming majority of foreign employees rent, rather than buy, their living space.

Resolution 3407 is consistent with recent government actions to limit the contact of Turkmen citizens with outside influences. The government has reduced educational opportunities, curtailed access to the Internet, and reintroduced travel restrictions, including the requirement that Turkmen citizens obtain "exit visas." In 8 June talks with a visiting OSCE dignitary, Niyazov defended his moves, saying democratization efforts had to take into account national traditions.

Niyazov has also clamped down in the cultural sphere. Perhaps the most notorious government move was Niyazov's 5 April decision to close the ballet and opera theaters in Ashgabat, the capital. Niyazov has also tightened controls on state media and has been critical of the Culture Ministry.

Niyazov has often stated a desire to promote Turkmen culture. For example, he described opera and ballet as "alien" to national culture. Before ordering a shake-up of state television and radio, he likewise assailed media outlets as not adequately reflecting "national features."

In its analysis of Resolution 3407, the pro-government describes the $50,000 payment as "a sort of kalym," or a traditional payment made by the parents of the groom to the parents of the bride.

Kalym is an engrained, centuries-old Turkmen tradition that survived even under the Soviet regime. At the close of the 1970s, Turkmen poet Toushan Esenova published a scathing article entitled "This Cursed Kalym" in the journal "Literaturnaya Gazeta," in which she lamented that not even the Soviet state had been able to eradicate the "feudal" practice. During the waning years of the Soviet Union, a kalym price for a bride from the Tekke tribe in Ashgabat and Mary reportedly could reach as high as 30,000 rubles. This at a time when a typical monthly salary was about 250 rubles and a Volga auto cost approximately 15,000 rubles.

Whether or not Resolution 3407 is in keeping with Turkmen cultural tradition, the decree, in establishing large obstacles to marriages involving foreigners, helps deepen the cultural and political isolation of Turkmenistan. This trend ultimately serves to reinforce Niyazov's authority, while further restricting the already greatly limited freedoms of the general population. (Eurasia View)

Turkmen Refugees In Pakistan Have A Hard Life

20 June 2001

The first-ever World Refugee Day took place on 20 June. Here is one of the letters from our listeners, devoted to that important day:

Many Turkmen refugees from Afghanistan have been staying in Pakistan for dozens of years and still their life is very hard and poor. Recently it has even worsened, as Khadji Mamed Salikh, an old Turkmen who had lived in exile for 21 years, writes.

"Turkmen refugees in refugee camps in Pakistan often become targets of the local police's mocking. Famous for their beautiful and high quality carpets, Turkmen sew carpets and make some money on their sales. In [the] small town of Torkhan-Bendera police officers have already several times confiscated the carpets from Turkmen at daytime and with no explanation. In [the] Serdar Ahem Jan and Peshavar area some Turkmen carpetmakers have been forcibly deported back to Afghanistan. Their families stayed in Pakistan with almost no chance to earn money and buy food. Since most refugees have no documents at all, the pretext for deportation is absence of a passport or any ID card.

"Turkmen refugees reported another shocking story about one Turkmen family. One woman got seriously ill and was delivered to the local hospital. Her husband wanted to visit her and left their two children of six and seven years old locked at home. On his way to the hospital the man was stopped by the police patrol and detained for having no documents. The officers did not care about the two small helpless children left alone. The man was then taken to Afghanistan. Only in three days did he manage to secretly get back home and unlock the poor children, both of whom had died without any food. When his wife learned about this tragedy she also died at the hospital.

"Bribery, writes Khadji Mamed Salikh, has flourished in the area around refugees camps. Once refugees appear on the streets the local police immediately detain them and extort money. Usually 500-1000 rupees are enough to escape deportation. Otherwise, those who have no money are brought to police stations. There are no bathrooms there. Many people are put together in small cells and have to stand for many hours. The temperatures are extremely high. Detainees often suffer. Afterwards, refugees are transported back to Afghanistan. The Pakistani authorities unofficially want them go back to Afghanistan and get rid of refugees this way.

"Many people deported to Afghanistan often disappear and never rejoin their families. You can see lots of lonely women with children in the locations close to Afghan-Pakistani borders.

"Turkmen refugee leaders have applied to the UNCHR and other UN branches in order to transfer the refugees somewhere else. But this problem remains unsolved. Many ethnic Turkmen would like to and dream of moving to Turkmenistan one day. However the Turkmen head, Niyazov, is unlikely to remember his promise to accept all the Turkmen from the world and even to give them land plots." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

New Swimming Suit Established In Turkmenistan

24 June 2001

One of our listeners has written that at the Caspian Sea shore in Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) there is one policemen posted every five meters these days. This situation is caused by a new order for all people who want to swim on public beaches. The order says that all women regardless of their nationality have to wear long dresses down to the feet if they want to go swimming. Men are also limited in their choice and have to wear shorts not shorter than to their knees. Local people and tourists applied to a federal representative in the city to find out the reason for the strange decree. But one official, who asked to remain anonymous, said one would have to apply directly to the author of the decree -- President Niyazov himself. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)